No 'tipping point' yet in PC alternatives: Intel

Technologies abound, but none dominate

What PC alternatives are winning the hearts and minds of Intel's customers? None of them, according to a recent poll by the chipmaker.

Other than Terminal Services, which include Citrix Presentation Server and Microsoft Terminal Server, Intel says users haven't anointed any other alternative — including desktop virtualisation, application and operating system streaming, or blade PCs — as a clear favourite.

Finding out which technology will make the most inroads in the enterprise isn't an idle question for Intel, says Mike Ferron-Jones, manager of the company's emerging model programme. "Knowing this is really important because it informs how we are going to build our products," he says. With desktop virtualisation, for example, the question is, "How do we optimise our server products for dishing out high volumes of client virtual machines to thin clients?"

Intel conducted online interviews with more than 700 IT managers at medium-to-large-size companies to gather its data.

The survey found that 64% of the companies were using Terminal Services, a well-established technology, and were deploying them to about 26% of their clients. In two years, that will rise to about 34%.

But among the broader spectrum of alternatives, Intel says users have no clear favourite. For example, 39% of respondents said they had some current deployment of desktop virtualisation, including installations such as testing and pilots. But the survey found that users were deploying desktop virtualisation to only 8% of their clients.

Other models looked at by respondents include application streaming, with 30% of respondents reporting some deployment; operating system streaming, which was taken by 15%; and blade PCs, used by 26%.

However, when asked what percentages of clients were using any of these models, as with desktop virtualisation, the numbers were much smaller: applications streaming, 11%; operating system streaming, 3%; and blade PCs, 6%. But the survey points to increasing deployment in all of these technologies. As a percentage of client deployments, Intel's survey shows increases ranging from 50% to more than 100% over two years, although the overall percentage remained relatively low.

"What the data is showing is we haven't hit the tipping point on one particular model yet," Ferron-Jones says.

Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC, says he wasn't surprised by Intel's findings. "I think they are correct that it's still too early to tell," he says.

"They are all valid technologies," O'Donnell says, and user choice may be based on which is best for the application load. As to why this is an important issue for Intel to explore, O'Donnell says, "I think they are a little nervous about it because it potentially changes their model" by moving to servers and potentially non-Intel-based thin clients.

Intel already has a good idea of what will be needed for these alternatives and has products in the pipeline, such as an upcoming microprocessor, Diamondville, which is intended for low-power devices, including thin clients, Ferron-Jones says. But the direction that users take matters, he says. For instance, if operating system streaming takes off, vendors will have to make sure they are building I/O subsystems "that can really pound out high volumes of OS images in short amounts of time," he says, such as when systems are booted up in the morning.

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